The mere fact that the Singapore summit took place at all and concluded in an atmosphere of détente and optimism for a more peaceful future was, in itself, a momentous achievement. Beyond that fact, what degree of success can be attributed to this first-ever meeting between a United States president and a North Korean dictator? In reality, this is a question that has yet to be answered. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is the most isolated, secretive, and repressed country on earth. What, then, might really change, and how could it be measured?
That Chairman Kim Jong Un will change his ways overnight is hardly a rational expectation. But did Kim’s meeting with President Donald Trump really lay the foundation for a new era of bilateral relations?
Hysterical Media Reaction
The left-wing establishment media quickly became hysterical in their attempts to paint the entire affair as an abject failure. Breathlessly, these so-called journalists spin the summit as another example of Trump’s reckless behavior, poor judgment, and all-around stupidity. One cannot, with a straight face, recount every angle of attack used by the anti-Trump media and neither would it be worth the effort.
It should be remembered that when the president was promising North Korea “fire and fury,” these media outlets were demanding negotiations and diplomacy, lest the world descends into global conflict. Now that the diplomacy has begun, these same outlets are expressing disdain that Trump chose to negotiate with a brutal dictator.
Pledges and Persuasion
What of the joint statement that came out of the summit, then? To be sure, it contained no binding concessions from either side. For his part, Kim pledged to work towards “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” and the repatriation of American POW/MIA remains. Within the written statement itself, the United States has committed itself to nothing beyond working with the DPRK to achieve the desired goals and to participate in further negotiations.
Once the summit concluded, Trump revealed that he was suspending joint military exercises with South Korea. Critics have pointed to this as a huge concession to Kim but this is nonsense. It would be naïve of anyone to believe that planning and preparation for future war games will not continue and the president has made it clear that joint military drills will resume if negotiations with North Korea break down.
The most powerful action taken by the American delegation was to show Kim a video presentation, demonstrating the massive potential of opening his hermit state up to capitalism and a trading relationship with the United States.
Tangible Results and Future Possibilities
Did the summit achieve anything, then? It certainly has not guaranteed a denuclearized Korean Peninsula but such an eventuality was never going to become reality overnight. The tangible results are evident, however; the two countries took a long step back from the brink of military confrontation. Both leaders return to their respective capitals with considerable cachet – Trump, because he pulled off what no previous U.S. president ever even attempted and Kim because he has been elevated from petty dictator to a leader who negotiated with the most powerful political figure in the world.
Providing the North Korean dictator with such prestige was a small price to pay. If Kim had wanted to tell his people that he had met with the president of the United States, he could have done so at any time, even if such a meeting had never taken place; he could even have directed the creation of edited photographs and video to show on North Korean state television channels. Trump, therefore, has given Kim nothing beyond the offer of a vastly better future for himself and for his people. The most important question remaining is whether the dictator will be willing to abandon his precious nuclear weapons program in exchange for that future.